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The Flesh and the Mortar Prophecy by Nathan Hassall, reviewed by Jeff Cannon

Nathan Hassall’s new collection of poems entitled, The Flesh and Mortar Prophecy, is far from an imaginary romp into the bizarre realms of madness. It is a deep and penetrating journey into the meaning of fleshy being that includes the poet and engages the reader. The author’s poems relate to each other in such a way that each one offers another clue to the descent into finding true consciousness: the way painted trees point out which path to take deeper into the forest.

Hassall is another explorer who marks a way for us to navigate the perilous and porous walls between madness and sanity; imprisonment and freedom. Read the preface. There, Hassall provides the reader with not only an intriguing background but more importantly a helpful framework for the reader to better jump into and engage these provocative poems.

This is a tightly written little chapbook. Its sharp, succinct words, sometimes rhymed, often free flowing, punctuate brisk paced verses. Each one has its own descriptive character and meditative tone, yet does not stand alone. Each poem relates to the others to form a distinctive and cohesive poetic piece. The sound of each one resonates with trembling urgency. As well, there is the pulse of revelations, Johannine apocalyptic, with a sprinkle of Mephistopheles. Lastly, there is more than a pinch of old time English asylum life and the physically wrenching and spirit wracked torment of finding a centered life and living it.

Ambivalence runs rampant with its antagonisms wrestling the reader. She or he gets pulled from one poetically descriptive tussle to another. Just when they might think they are free, Hassall reminds them that despite the fact “…the present clears…arms do not forget their shackles.” With the next bout the reader discovers “…the heart bleeds like sap, trickles to the roots, awakens hope.”

Here, body, spirit, soul and heart with their physical agony combine with the anguished mind to become wrapped in the metaphor of illness: one Susan Sontag deftly described in her prose book of the same name. Here they mingle and deliver not only the poet but also the reader to a place both discover where “…a familiar man… looks into me trembles, ‘welcome back’ ”.

Magic happens here. First, as every journey has clues, this one seeks keys that lock and unlock. With each twist of their iron fingers they change the adventure from ambiguous darkness to starry light or the wish for ‘comfort of frost just beyond the Asylum gates’. Second, pronouns join the fray. ‘I’, ‘your’ and ‘you’ play the Trickster dancing their own mischief throughout this work. Yet, the author, protagonist, is not undaunted. He proclaims near the end despite everything that has already transpired and what is yet to come: “I want to be aware, and I want to be awake.”

Another vital element that subtly augments Hassall’s poetry is Rachael Tester’s art work. Here artistic forms blend sound and visual image to stir dark shades of madness. Its Goth hues create a swirling stew that simmers into its own destination. Tester’s offerings not only compliment, but also with graceful presence, accent the work in a wonderful way.

Hassall’s The Flesh and Mortar Prophecy is an ingenious work. Stark poetic images unlock so many levels of individual madness and sanity. Yet the personal voice breaks through the restraints of the self. Its echo becomes an icebreaker that frees one to reach into the collective and social realm. It liberates meaning beyond the tiny, insulated island of individualism - hopefully for the better. I find this an intriguing and provocative work. It unlocked past crisis times for me. Unafraid, I could open those doors and re-enter those places to be more “aware and awake” myself!

BIO: Review by Jeff Cannon, poet and author of “Passionate Leaves’ (Chapbook, 2008, 2009, self- published), Intimate Witness: The Carol Poems (2009, Goose River Press), Eros Faces of Love and Finding the Father at Table, 2010, X-libris).

The Flesh and Mortar Prophecy is available at Amazon.com  CLICK HERE

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Reader Comments (1)

Wow...that was a heck of a review. Definitely buying this book.

September 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea Culy

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